Chemma navigates Indiana Game through a challenging time
Taking over an AAU basketball program at the age of 25 is a big enough task under normal circumstances.
Try being the point person for 70 kids, navigating them and their families through the uncertainties of a viral pandemic while advancing their hoops skills.
"I know more about COVID-19 than I wish I ever knew," Indiana Game Director Scott Chemma said. "I didn't have any real guidance. I came into it making every decision on the fly. I talked to local high schools, I talked to the health department time to time, especially when we were seeing positive cases. I never thought I'd be so in between on two sides, political stuff, the fear of losing kids. I just tried to make sure everything was super safe, that we'd have the right information."
Coaches wore masks when they were inside the social distancing parameters and players had them on any time they were away from the bench or the court. Players had to supply their own water, temperature checks were done and hand sanitizer was in abundant supply.
"Just common sense," Chemma said. "If you know you have a positive exposure, don't send your team."
While five players and one coach tested positive over the course of play, four players were asymptomatic and the other had nothing worse than some sniffles. Four of the five cases came from one team and all were believed to originate from outside the group. Phrasing it as the schools do, Chemma approached each instance with 'an abundance of caution.'
"It was a frustrating season for everybody, but you're on a slippery slope," he said. "We shut down teams per the guidelines. With the younger kids, we were going to be more conservative. You don't know what they're going to do at that age. It was hard to justify sending a 14U team to Kansas City. The older kids, we just told them to hang out within the team. At an event in Indianapolis, they went to Top Golf and we had a kid test positive after that weekend, so we had to have his team and a couple kids he hung out with sit out the next week. It was tough. You don't want to tell a kid they can't play when they didn't test positive, but the kids, the parents understood why we did it."
Due to restrictions, teams were unable to play in the spring and everything was kept in-state. Practices began June 15 with the first tournament contested that weekend and the last one finished Sunday.
"We waited around, like everybody else," Chemma said.
Despite the underlying concerns that came with playing sports this summer, Indiana Game saw its ranks increase four to seven teams with two 17Us, 16Us and 15Us and one 14U.
"Most of our teams had 10 kids. Normally, we don't like to have as many, but with COVID concerns, we were the only thing going on," Chemma said. "We had football, baseball guys, so it was a little more of a challenge with everybody coming to AAU. They're paying $900, so it's always about playing time, but I think the parents were satisfied when they left."
A Chesterton graduate, Chemma coached the 2021 Select team. The Game staff includes former Merrillville head coach T.J. Lux and Michigan City assistant Antonio Hurt.
"Scott did a phenomenal job organizing and communicating with coaches and parents throughout the entire season, while dealing with these unique and challenging circumstances," Lux said. "On the forefront of his mind was always player safety while making sure he tried to deliver the best experience and opportunities for the players. Scott is a really good person who cares deeply about the game, development and most importantly, the players and parents he interacts with."
The Indiana Game AAU boys basketball program, under the direction of Scott Chemma, had seven teams this summer. It will conduct a fall league and looks to expand its participation next season. (Photo provided)
Other Region hoops alumni who help with the program are Chris Adzia (Bishop Noll), Rob Cavanaugh (Valparaiso), Tony Zezovski (Merrillville), Nathan Bubash (Munster), as well as Remy Lewis and Harley Lohmeyer of Chesterton.
"Every decision we make is collaborated," Chemma said. "I don't have a kid, so I don't know what it feels like to be a parent. I ask them, how do you feel about what we're doing? I have them to lean on and they've definitely helped a ton. Some of the parents are older, some are younger, and they all have insight to help us develop guidelines. I over-communicated with them, here's what we're doing, why we're doing, I'd ask if there was anything we could do to improve. You know when you take over something, there's going to be good and bad, but I love what we've got, especially with the craziness of the year."
Indiana Game strives to go against the grain of the stereotypical AAU style of rolling out the ball and letting the kids run and gun.
"Everything right now is about exposure," Chemma said. "I played travel soccer and I never once thought about recruiting, but I finally see the nature of it. We try to be about development and having fun. We know they all can score. They can get 15 points, but can they get eight rebounds, get some steals, assists? We don't play selfish basketball. We don't teach one on one. We want to know, who's a team player? who's a leader? who's going to dive on the floor? Our goal as an AAU program is to work hand and glove with the high school programs. We're focused on communication with the coaches. We want to try to keep the top tier guys in Northwest Indiana."
While the rosters are mainly comprised of players from Lake, Porter and La Porte counties, the Game's reach has extended east to South Bend and west to Illinois. The 2021 Select squad capped the summer with a Silver Division title at the Indiana Ice Invitational.
"There was a lot of good competition, a lot of D-I guys," Chemma said. "We got a ton of recognition with Prep Hoops. Our 17s had a really good following. We had a lot of (college) coaches at games. Our 16Us, last year, they would never show up, so that's a testament to the kids on the roster."
Quite a few names like Travis Grayson (Chesterton), Evan Bush (Michigan City), Ethan Osowski (La Porte), Drew Adzia (Crown Point), Logan Van Essen (Illiana Christian), Lincoln Thomae and Flynn Carlson (Victory Christian), Clayton Bubash (Munster) and Tate Ivanyo (Morgan Township), are already familiar around the Region hoops scene, while others, like Breece Walls and Clayton MacLagan of Valparaiso, are expected to take the next step.
"MacLagan's a 6-6 kid with range, a really good shooter," Chemma said. "Ivanyo's somebody no one knew, but by the end, he had a following that wasn't expected, especially this year. He's a terrific kid."
Chemma expects Indiana Game to continue to grow, possibly adding teams at younger ages. It has already opened registration on its site for a fall league.
"We're watching closely what happens with football, with the schools, college, the pros," he said. "It's something we can bring to Northwest Indiana where kids can just sign up and go compete. We're hoping for anywhere from 100 to 200. We'll place them on a roster and make it competitive."